Los Angeles will seek to overturn 'Boise ruling' which prevents public officials from sanctioning the homeless

With nearly 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, there is a pressing need to do something about the growing crisis. However, a decision issued last year by the 9th Circuit has tied the hands of police in dealing with the homeless. Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to join a legal challenge to that ruling. From the LA Times:

On Tuesday, the supervisors voted to direct lawyers for Los Angeles County to draft an amicus brief, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a challenge to Martin vs. City of Boise. The case, decided by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last September, found that arresting or otherwise punishing homeless people for sleeping on the sidewalk when there are not enough shelter beds or housing was unconstitutional.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who authored the county’s motion, said the ruling had “tied our hands” and made serving homeless people more difficult.

“We are grappling with a problem of unprecedented scale,” she said of the nearly 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, many of them living outdoors. “Now, more than ever, it is critical that we have access to every tool at our disposal to combat homelessness.”

Two of the five supervisors on the board voted against the proposal saying they didn’t want to criminalize the homeless. There were also several dozen speakers at the meeting last night who mostly argued against the plan:

More than six dozen people spoke out on the issue during the board meeting, many of them pleading with the board not to support the appeal. Many said the homeless should not be subjected to citations or prosecution when they have no other alternatives for housing.

David Busch of the Services Not Sweeps Coalition issued a statement accusing the board of “working hand-in-glove with (President) Donald Trump” in a push “to remove the fundamental 8th Amendment constitutional rights they (the homeless) must rely on to protect themselves.”

The push to overturn the Boise ruling is being led by former Solicitor General Ted Olson. Olson and his law firm approached the city of Boise and offered to appeal the case for a discounted fee. With the 9th Circuit already having rejected an appeal, the case would now go to the Supreme Court:

In April 2019, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did refuse to reconsider the Boise ruling. But in an unusual dissent, Judge Milan Smith Jr. said the opinion broke with precedent for the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts — a clear invitation to the high court to step in, legal experts said…

In his dissent, Smith, who was joined by five judges on the 9th Circuit, said that the Boise ruling had begun “wreaking havoc” on local government, and predicted that it would lead to dropping laws against public defecation and urination and force cities into ruinous investments in shelters or housing.

Smith put a photograph of sidewalk tents on a downtown Los Angeles street into the record, asserting that the Boise decision “shackles the hands of public officials trying to redress the serious societal concern of homelessness.”

Supporters of the Boise ruling, including the lawyer who brought the case on behalf of six homeless people, argue it makes no sense to arrest and fine homeless people who have nowhere else to go and no way to pay. They argue that cities will simply have to build more shelters and, in the meantime, allow camping in certain designated areas.

I get the apparent futility of it, but the problem I have with the Boise ruling is it essentially makes homelessness a lawless zone. Not only can you not tell the homeless they can’t sleep on the sidewalks, it’s not clear you can do anything to prevent them using the streets as a bathroom either. Essentially, this ruling forces taxpayers to provide land or housing for every mentally disturbed and addicted person who happens to turn up in their city. That’s bad for taxpayers but it’s probably bad for a lot of the homeless who are being told that responsibility for their lives can be offloaded onto struggling municipalities while they put all their personal energy into pursuing whatever demons led them into the streets in the first place.

A decision on whether or not the Court will decide to hear the case is due in the next few weeks.